Tuesday Report, October 5, 2010
Special to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service
According to new census figures and despite drops in house prices, thirty-seven percent of US households pay more than 30 percent of their monthly income for shelter. The figures emerge among new stories of mortgage mismanagement centered on document generation.
In California, the Los Angeles Times breaks a story showing how 120 cities drew $700 million in housing funds and did not construct a single unit.
Meanwhile, the Galveston Housing Authority goes back to the drawing board and prepares to rework plans to replace public housing units destroyed by Hurricane Ike. The last meeting indicates that the total number of units will remain at 569 but will be more dispersed.
For a pdf version of the full articles, plus contextual stories in social, environmental and legal areas, contact Bo McCarver at firstname.lastname@example.org
Number of the Week: 41.7 Million Spend Too Much on Housing
41.7 million: U.S. households who face excessive housing costs
By Mary Whitehouse Real Time Economics October 2, 2010
In the conventional narrative of the recession and recovery, one bright spot has been the speed with which U.S. households are shedding their debts and getting their finances back in order.
The latest data from the Census Bureau, though, offer a less encouraging picture: Even as the average household debt burden improves, an increasing number of households are finding themselves financially stretched.
As of 2009, some 41.7 million U.S. households, or 36.7% of the total, faced housing costs that exceeded 30% of their pretax income — a level typically defined as the threshold of affordability. That’s an increase of 1.5 million from 2007, despite a sharp drop in house prices and policy makers’ extraordinary efforts to bring down mortgage payments.
Cities often give short shrift to affordable housing
At least 120 municipalities spent a combined $700 million in housing funds from 2000 to 2008 without constructing a single new unit, a Times analysis of state data shows. Nor did most of them add to the housing stock by rehabilitating existing units.
By Jessica Garrison, Kim Christensen and Doug Smith, Los Angeles Times Los Angeles Times October 3, 2010
Second of two parts — Cities across California have skirted or ignored laws requiring them to build affordable homes and in the process mismanaged hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars, a Times investigation has found.
At least 120 municipalities — nearly one in three with active redevelopment agencies — spent a combined $700 million in housing funds from 2000 to 2008 without constructing a single new unit, the newspaper’s analysis of state data shows. Nor did most of them add to the housing stock by rehabilitating existing units.
In case after case, The Times found, cities spent substantial sums for little return: — The San Gabriel Valley city of Irwindale spent $87 million from 2000 to 2008 but produced only 42 homes and 62 rehabilitated units. Some of the money was spent on industrial land next to an old gravel pit and warehouses, a site that officials now acknowledge was unsuitable for housing. New plans call for building a hot-sauce factory there.
The Future of Freddie and Fannie
Opinion by Edward Glaeser New York Times October 5, 2010
In the past, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac operated as profit-making entities backed by an implicit government guarantee. That toxic combination always seemed almost designed to lose billions of taxpayer dollars, and that is exactly what happened.
Looking forward, the best option is to replace them with an entirely public entity that enables securitization by guaranteeing 30-year fixed-rate mortgages and that charges a high enough premium to stay solvent. We then should hope that private competitors will eventually be able to put the public entity out of business.
I support the public option not out of blind faith in the public sector, but out of profound skepticism toward mixed public-private models, like Fannie and Freddie. The free-market friends of privatizing those entities envision a bold new world where the government no longer stands behind their debt. But if the last three years have taught us anything, it is that the government is not going to sit by and let a major part of the financial system fail.
So the question of whether the government should bail out any Fannie-Freddie successor is moot. It will be bailed out. If the government is going to bear the costs of any future catastrophe, then it might as well acknowledge that inevitability and ensure that the entity is as prudent as possible. Such prudence is far more compatible with a slow-moving public bureaucracy than with a nimble, profit-seeking private company.
JPMorgan Suspends Foreclosures Amid Document Review
Associated Press September 29, 2010
JPMorgan Chase said Wednesday that it was suspending more than 50,000 foreclosures as it reviewed the legitimacy of legal documents in the cases.
The bank is the second major company to take such action this month, underscoring a growing legal problem about identifying the holder of the original mortgage note. The issue could stall an already overloaded foreclosure process. Analysts do not expect the delays to reduce the number of foreclosures in the long run.
Foreclosures Slow as Document Flaws Emerge
By David Streitfeld New York Times October 1, 2010
The foreclosure machinery that has forced millions of Americans out of their homes is beginning to seize up as some lenders and their lawyers are accused of cutting corners in their pursuit of rapid home repossessions.
Evictions are expected to slow sharply, housing analysts said, as state and national law enforcement officials shine a light on questionable foreclosure methods revealed by two of the country’s biggest home lenders in the last two weeks.
Even lenders with no known problems are expected to approach defaulting homeowners more cautiously and look more aggressively for resolutions short of outright eviction.
Despite the turmoil, some economists said the breakdown could ultimately lay the groundwork for a real estate recovery.
In Mortgage Ad, Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right
By Ron Lieber New York Times October 1, 2010
One of the most important lessons of the mortgage collapse is that potential borrowers need clear explanations of exactly what kind of commitment they are making.
So in the last couple of years, there has been a recurring national conversation around proper disclosures, underwriting standards and fiscal prudence. All have nodded their heads solemnly and pledged to do better.
And where has this gotten us? Consider a postcard that arrived in mailboxes in September, announcing itself with a brash, declarative statement: the best mortgage on the block.
That sounds very 2005, but this is not some fly-by-night operation peddling the loan. It’s ING Direct USA, the people who popularized the online savings account and have since moved into checking, investment accounts and mortgages.
The ING Direct loan is called a 5/1 Orange Mortgage, and as of early September, it came with a 3.25 percent interest rate for the first five years and a projected interest rate of 3.375 percent for the 25 years after that.
Yes, you read that right, under 3.5 percent for the next 30 years.
Flawed Paperwork Aggravates a Foreclosure Crisis
By Gretchen Morgenson New York Times October 3, 2010
As some of the nation’s largest lenders have conceded that their foreclosure procedures might have been improperly handled, lawsuits have revealed myriad missteps in crucial documents.
The flawed practices that GMAC Mortgage, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America have recently begun investigating are so prevalent, lawyers and legal experts say, that additional lenders and loan servicers are likely to halt foreclosure proceedings and may have to reconsider past evictions.
Problems emerging in courts across the nation are varied but all involve documents that must be submitted before foreclosures can proceed legally. Homeowners, lawyers and analysts have been citing such problems for the last few years, but it appears to have reached such intensity recently that banks are beginning to re-examine whether all of the foreclosure papers were prepared properly.
In Florida, judge attempts to get handle on foreclosure problem
McClatchy Newspapers October 4, 2010
MANATEE — The fifth time was the final straw for Manatee County Circuit Court Judge Janette Dunnigan.
Four times in a 2007 foreclosure case, a Fort Lauderdale law firm representing a bank scheduled a hearing and either did not appear or canceled it at the last minute without telling others. So when it happened again April 13, Dunnigan called Smith, Hiatt and Diaz P.A. and issued a warning: Stop it or I’ll hold you in contempt of court.
By Nancy Sarnoll and Rurva Patel Houston Chronicle October 5, 2010
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott called for a halt on foreclosures Monday amid nationwide scrutiny over the way they are processed.
Notices to suspend foreclosures were sent to 27 loan servicers doing business in Texas, including Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, the attorney general’s office said. It did not have the full list of companies available late Monday.
The office also called for a halt on the sales of properties previously foreclosed upon, which might affect auctions scheduled today, and on evictions of people living in such properties.
The office said it began investigating foreclosures last month after reports that an employee of Ally Financial, a large mortgage lender, acknowledged signing thousands of foreclosure documents without reviewing them as required.
Ally has since suspended foreclosures on certain properties in 23 other states, as have JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America. This is so they can investigate whether their employees rushed foreclosures, a practice called “robosigning.”
Loss of Ike aid threatens jobs and services
Bill to extend deadline for using federal grants killed by one lawmaker
By Harvey Rice Houston Houston Chronicle October 1, 2010
GALVESTON — Social service agencies began laying off employees Thursday after finding out that a single member of the U.S. House of Representatives killed a bill that would have allowed the Houston-Galveston area to keep about $40 million in federal disaster funds.
The bill would have extended the Sept. 30 deadline for using what remained of $600 million in social services block grants divided among several states afflicted by disasters. The bill’s defeat means that nonprofit agencies such as Houston’s Neighborhood Centers Inc. will stop providing services to the estimated 175,000 households affected by Hurricane Ike.
Time run out for Ike funds
By T.J. Aulds Galveston Daily News October 2, 2010
Thousands of Galveston County residents who were getting assistance in their Hurricane Ike recovery from local social service agencies will be cut off from help after Congress failed to pass legislation that would extend the time period the $40 million in Social Services Block Grant money could be spent. The deadline to spend the money was Thursday. It was expected that Congress would grant an extension to the program since it would not require extra money. While funds were allocated last year, they actually were not available until February of this year. The problem was that the deadline to spend the $50 million allocated to social service agencies in Galveston County was Thursday. The bill passed the U.S. Senate easily late Wednesday and was sent to the House for what supporters thought would be a voice vote called unanimous consent. For legislation to be considered for a unanimous consent vote, no member of the U.S. House can object to the vote. The bill never made it to the floor because someone objected.
Full story at: http://galvestondailynews.com/story/180658
Businesses still waiting on $2.5M in Ike funds
By Laura Elder Galveston County Daily News October 3, 2010
GALVESTON — A year after receiving federal money to help small businesses hurt by Hurricane Ike, the city has yet to disburse a dime. And with only a year left to obligate or lose the $2.5 million, it still hasn’t finalized a disbursement plan. But until notified by The Daily News, some city council members available for comment said they were unaware the money was not reaching small businesses. Nor did they know city staff had, without a vote of the council, delegated the program to the Galveston Economic Development Partnership. Some questioned whether a private organization financed by membership dues from local businesses should have so much influence about how the money should be spent. ‘I Have Reservations’ The $2.5 million is just a sliver of a large pie mostly devoted to repairing housing and infrastructure after Hurricane Ike struck two years ago, flooding thousands of buildings. But some said the issue illuminates a broader problem of who’s tracking $267 million in federal Community Development Block Grant money given to the city for disaster recovery.
Full story at: http://galvestondailynews.com/story/180822
Housing authority to discuss possible land swap
By Ian White Galveston County Daily News October 4, 2010
GALVESTON — Galveston Housing Authority’s plans to rebuild 430 homes on the footprints of its pre-Hurricane Ike developments could be ripped up and the number reduced by almost a fifth. The authority’s board members will meet today for an all-day workshop during which new member Tom LaRue will propose building on the three sites at a general density of 24 homes per block, considerably less than their density before the storm wiped them out in September 2008. LaRue, who is president of the Galveston branch of Prosperity Bank and was appointed to the housing authority board by new Mayor Joe Jaworski, told The Daily News on Friday that density would reduce the number to 352, and the figure could go even lower. He said his plan would involve building 217 homes on scattered sites throughout the city instead of the 169 envisaged in the present proposals.
Full story at: http://galvestondailynews.com/story/181186
Exchanges get heated at GHA meeting
By Ian White Galveston County Daily News October 5, 2010
GALVESTON — Elizabeth Beeton started an argument; Mark Davis implored Galvestonians to stop fighting; Tarris Woods gave a lighthearted history lesson with minor corrections from Barbara Crews; Dolph Tillotson was accused of running the most racist newspaper in the state; and Tom LaRue discovered he and Leon Phillips are brothers. But, with the last statement of an emotionally charged public comments session at the end of Monday’s Galveston Housing Authority workshop, the board’s vice president, Paula Neff, gained an ovation for declaring: “We’re not going to sell this community out.”
Before the public was given its head, the members of the housing authority board ran the gamut of island public housing issues, including a discussion on member LaRue’s proposals to alter the number of homes rebuilt on the authority’s four Hurricane Ike-destroyed developments. Included in that discussion was a reference to the possibility of a public-private partnership at the Magnolia Homes site and a land swap involving the Oleander Homes site. The board also revised its target for the number of homes proposed at the Cedar Terrace site to 66, which is six fewer than the vision outlined by LaRue in Monday’s Daily News article “Housing authority to discuss possible land swap. ” The revision, which, if approved, would add six homes to the number built on scattered sites was introduced after the authority’s executive director, Harish Krishnarao, described federal rules that require 50 percent of public housing to be rebuilt in low-income areas and the remainder in areas of higher income. The total number of homes rebuilt would remain at 569, the number the authority is charged with replacing after their destruction by the 2008 storm.
By Zeke MacCormack San Antonio Express-News September 29, 2010
BOERNE — More than two years after city leaders approved a controversial development pact on Esperanza, the first steps have been taken toward constructing the huge subdivision off Texas 46.
Highland Homes has contracted to build some of the 2,480 houses planned east of town by Dallas developer Marlin Atlantis, which is now negotiating with a second builder.
“We’re excited about it,” said Alan Gresham of Highland, calling Esperanza’s layout and features unique to the area.
Building of the first 185 houses can’t start until Marlin Atlantis completes construction next year on streets and utilities in phase one of the 1,200-acre master-planned community, which also will include commercial sites.
Marlin Atlantis President Jim Baker blamed the soft housing market for delays on the project, which is forecast to eventually have 7,000 residents and add upward of $600 million to the tax base.
When Home Has No Place to Park
By Ian Lovett New York Times October 3, 2010
LOS ANGELES — Every day, Diane Butler and her husband park their two hand-painted R.V.’s in a lot at the edge of Venice Beach here, alongside dozens of other rickety, rusted campers from the 1970s and ’80s. During the day, she sells her artwork on the boardwalk. When the parking lot closes at sunset, she and the other R.V.-dwellers drive a quarter-mile inland to find somewhere on the street to park for the night.
Their nomadic existence might be ending, though. The Venice section of Los Angeles has become the latest California community to enact strict new regulations limiting street parking and banning R.V.’s from beach lots — regulations that could soon force Ms. Butler, 58, to leave the community where she has lived for four decades.
“They’re making it hard for people in vehicles to remain in Venice,” she said.
Full story at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/04/us/04rv.html?hpw
Dallas Housing Authority reveals plan to spread out housing for homeless
By Kim Horner Dallas Morning News October 4, 2010
Dallas Housing Authority officials said Monday they have a plan to prevent a concentration of housing for the homeless in any one neighborhood.
The agency will give 10 extra points in a scoring process to proposals in census tracts that do not already have that type of housing, MaryAnn Russ, president and chief executive officer, told the City Council’s Housing Committee on Monday.
The agency plans to seek proposals from landlords next week to provide 350 additional homes for the homeless within existing private apartment complexes. The housing will include services such as counseling and jobs programs.
The new point system is in response to concerns that certain parts of town have higher concentrations of subsidized housing.
Tuesday Report, September 28, 2010
Special to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service
Searching for a silver lining in the economy, market analysts are dismayed to see the housing industry continue to stagnate. Economists are split as to whether to infuse massive amounts of capital to support new loans and troubled mortgages or just let the market bottom-out. In July, however, without the federal tax credit for new homebuyers, single home sales appeared to stabilize.
In Richardson, developers who earlier promised condominiums along the DART track are now proposing apartments to deal with the realities of plummeting sales. Investors who earlier purchased condos are crying foul.
For a pdf version of the articles, plus contextual stories in social, environmental and legal areas, contact Bo McCarver at email@example.com
Business spending rises but new home sales flat
By Martin Crutsinger Associated Press September 24, 2010
WASHINGTON — U.S. companies invested last month in computers, communications equipment and machinery, boosting capital goods orders for the third time in four months.
The 4.1 percent increase to capital goods in August signaled a rebound in business spending after orders fell 5.3 percent in July. It also suggests manufacturing, which has helped drive economic growth since the recession ended in June 2009, is still a bright spot in a weak recovery.
The gains in capital goods orders, along with a jump in business confidence in Germany, helped send stocks soaring. The Dow Jones industrial average surged more than 180 points in afternoon trading.
The overall demand for durable goods fell 1.3 percent in August, the Commerce Department said today. But that was pulled down by a significant drop in orders for aircraft. When excluding the volatile transportation sector, orders rose 2 percent – the best showing in five months.
In a separate report, Commerce said that sales of new homes were unchanged from a month earlier at a seasonally adjusted annual sales pace of 288,000. The sales pace was the second-worst on records dating back to 1963, with the pace in May being the worst.
Homes sales in August were down 29 percent from the same month a year earlier.
Normally the building industry powers economic recoveries. Each new home built creates, on average, the equivalent of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in taxes, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
But housing has been at the center of this downturn and shows no signs of recovering quickly.
Full story at: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/business/7216585.html
July Home Prices Dip And Seen Stabilizing
By Lynn Adler Reuters September 28, 2010
NEW YORK - Single-family home prices dipped in July, and are seen stabilizing near the lows without the homebuyer tax credit that ended in April, Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price indexes showed on Tuesday.
The S&P/Case Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas declined 0.1 percent in July from June on a seasonally adjusted basis, as expected in a Reuters poll. The dip followed a 0.2 percent June rise, which was revised down from a 0.3 percent increase.
Unadjusted, the 20-city index gained 0.6 percent after June’s 1 percent gain. A 0.4 percent rise was expected.
Dallas-Fort Worth home prices down 0.4 percent
By Steve Brown Dallas Morning News September 28, 2010
After eight months of solid gains, Dallas-area home prices are back in the red.
Dallas-area home prices were down a scant 0.4 percent in July from a year earlier, according to the latest Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller Home Price Index.
It was the first price decline for Dallas since October in the closely-watched survey. Dallas home prices were still up 0.9 percent from June.
Nationwide prices were 3.2 percent higher in the Case-Shiller report.
But don’t expect a lot more, the researchers say.
“Any one looking for home price to return to the lofty 2005-2006 might be disappointed,” S&P’s David Blitzer said in the report. “Judging from recent behavior of the housing market, stable prices appear more likely.
New homes starting to shrink a bit in Dallas-Fort Worth and nationwide
By Steve Brown Dallas Morning News September 24, 2010
Builder Jeff Baron’s latest home has two fireplaces, vaulted ceilings in the master bedroom and a walk-in closet almost big enough to park a Buick in.
But the three-bedroom house is half the size of some nearby McMansions in this Old East Dallas neighborhood.
“It has all the amenities of the big houses but fit into a smaller space,” said Baron, who has been building for about eight years. “More people today are asking themselves how much house they really need.
“Do you need a 4,000-square-foot house with a media room?”
Walking away with less
By Dina ElBoghdady and Dan Keating Washington Post September 26, 2010
A new wave of distressed home sales is rippling, more quietly this time, through American cities and suburbs.
Its unsettling effects are playing out here in Manassas, along Brewer Creek Place, a modest, horseshoe-shaped street lined with 98 brick townhouses. Several years after the U.S. foreclosure crisis erupted, the U-Hauls are back.
The last time, banks seized nearly every fourth house on the street through foreclosure. This time, homeowners are going another route: a short sale.
“I love this house, but I just have to leave,” said Leanna Harris, 27, the owner of a corner unit that used to be the builder’s model, with a stone path in the yard and a gourmet kitchen. “I’m at peace with it now.”
GMAC Foreclosure Probe Widens
By Andy Kroll Mother Jones September 24, 2010
Earlier this week, I reported on the brewing controversy surrounding multi-billion-dollar mortgage company GMAC, a subsidiary of Ally Financial, and its attempts to fix dubious paperwork the company used to foreclose on homeowners in 23 states. On September 17, GMAC surprised the industry by ordering a halt to foreclosure evictions and sales while it dealt with “technical” and non-factual errors in its court filings. Foreclosure defense attorneys and legal experts, however, said the practices GMAC was trying to remedy were industry-wide, and that the company’s admission cast doubt on the validity of possibly millions of foreclosures that used similarly questionable paperwork.
Today, Bloomberg News reports that the Iowa and Texas attorneys general have opened investigations into GMAC’s mortgage practices. “The integrity of the foreclosure process is of utmost importance, and we are very concerned by the issues that have been raised regarding Ally Financial’s treatment of affidavits,” Iowa assistant attorney general Patrick Madigan told Bloomberg.
Remedy For Foreclosures Has Economists Divided
By Chris Arnold NPR September 27, 2010
Despite the government’s efforts to help the housing market, economists estimate that about 1 in 4 households with a mortgage owe more than their house is worth.
Foreclosures continue to rack up — they hit a record high last month. And home construction remains near a 50-year low.
Some analysts say the government has done too much already and that the market should be left alone. Others think the government should take bolder action.
Plan to trade condos for apartments angers residents in Richardson’s Brick Row development
By Ian McCann Dallas Morning News September 25, 2010
Construction at Brick Row, a mix of apartments, condominiums, townhouses and retail in Richardson, started two years ago as the real estate market was imploding.
Developers and city officials touted the $140 million project as an upscale replacement for hundreds of aging apartments near a DART light-rail station and a place for young professionals to get an Uptown feel in the suburbs.
But with the condo market still lagging, developer Winston Capital is asking for permission to build more apartments instead of the condominiums that were planned.
That has nearby residents and those who bought the first townhouses in Brick Row crying foul.
They want the development that is on paper, which included 150 townhomes, 300 condos and only 500 apartments.
Austin comprehensive plan process frames big choices for future
City putting together guide to city policy for next three decades.
By Marty Toohey Austin American-Statesman September 27, 2010
In 1990, after returning to Austin to run an industrial firm, Jim Skaggs was asked by the president of the chamber of commerce for his overall take on the city after three decades away.
‘My answer was Austin is two cities,’ Skaggs recalls replying. One city wanted to recruit profitable companies, draw highly skilled workers and cultivate the image of a big city. The other wanted to keep Austin much as it was, an easygoing town whose less ambitious economic fortunes were tied primarily to the state government and the University of Texas.
‘Guess what? Both cities succeeded,’ Skaggs says. ‘Now we’ve got a mess. And Austin has to decide what it wants to be when it grows up.’
Skaggs has carved an identity as a political contrarian, a conservative in a liberal bastion. But even the activists on the other end of the civic debate generally agree that fractious Austin now faces big-city decisions it has long avoided.
To that end, the city is drafting a new comprehensive plan, dubbed Imagine Austin. It is intended to guide all aspects of municipal policy over the next 30 years, from where to build roads to how much to collect in taxes to what type and size of buildings should be erected.
“Homes For Our Neighbors” Program Gives Permanent Supportive Housing a Little Help
By Patrick Michels Dallas Observer September 24, 2010
The year-old faith network Greater Dallas Justice Revival threw its weight behind the push for more permanent supportive housing around the city at a boxed-lunch get-together at Cliff Temple Baptist Church this morning.
“This really is a historic day,” Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance president Mike Faenza told the gathered homeless advocates and churchfolk. “These efforts have not been without challenge, and we need your help.”
Under the new partnership, called “Homes for Our Neighbors,” Justice Revival director Randy Skinner asked religious groups to hold discussions about homelessness, and pass around a sample sermon and other flyers advocating for permanent supportive housing.